Message in a Bottle: a heart warming story about a fisherman who lived at 1 South Cottages in Thorpeness

Here’s a story that made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle when I first found it in an old archive document about Thorpeness:

A young local fisherman called Percy Westrup, lived at 1 South Cottages in Thorpeness on the Suffolk coast in the early 1900s along with his wife. Percy used to trawl the waters along the coast in his boat from Thorpeness to Aldeburgh, catching cod and herrings to send off market.

During the First World War Percy was called to the Navy and had to leave Thorpeness to go to Portsmouth to join his ship, not knowing what the future would hold for him and his wife back in the village.

On board his ship, the Captain received orders to sail up to the Orkney Islands, travelling up the East coast of England on the way. Early one morning a couple of days later, just as it was getting light Percy approached the Captain with an unusual request. He asked for permission to send a message in a bottle to his wife to let her know he was alive and well.

The confused captain asked how on earth his wife would ever get the letter. Percy replied “We have just come past the Shipwash Light vessel and Orford Ness Lighthouse.” He pointed to Aldeburgh and continued “The little village north is Thorpe(ness) and I have been fishing there for a few years”.

So the Captain gave him permission to put a note in a bottle, watching him write it to ensure he didn’t say anything in it that would compromise their mission. Percy carefully wrote his note, reassuring his wife that he was quite well and that he hoped all was well for her at home too. He threw the bottle overboard not knowing if his wife would ever receive it.

The next day a coastguard on duty at Thorpeness spotted what looked like a bottle on the beach. He realised it was addressed to Percy’s wife, who lived just 300 yards away at 1 South Cottages. Imagine his wife’s surprise when the coastguard delivered Percy’s message in the bottle. Percy was delighted when several weeks later in the Orkneys he received a letter from his wife expressing her delight at receiving the message.

Percy survived the war and went on to live and work in Thorpeness for many more years, eventually celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife there several decades later.

Percy’s story was found in an essay that he wrote in later life about the history of the seaside village of Thorpeness. The essay is kept at 1 South Cottages for holiday cottage guests to read during their stay.